As we know, not all firetrucks are red, but if you happen to be a firefighter where there are red trucks, what could be more appropriate than to have a red Corvette, too? George Steele of Huntington Beach, California, has been a firefighter most of his life and is stationed in nearby Seal Beach. He admits that his '56 Vette would have been red even if the firetrucks he works around were purple and green, but he is happy that the colors match.
George bought his 1956 Chevy Corvette in 1966, and is the fourth owner in the car's young life. It was purchased new in Huntington Park, California, by a young man whom later died in a traffic accident, fortunately not involving the Vette. The deceased's mother then drove the car daily. The Vette was originally painted Venetian Red with beige coves, but by the time George bought it, the '56 was garbed in a garish yellow. If you were into Corvettes in the '60s and early '70s, you won't be too amazed to learn that the purchase price was a mere $1,500, which included a 352ci stroker motor and Rochester fuel injection. After getting the recalcitrant fuel injection system sorted out, which, in this case means he replaced the F.I. unit with carburetors, Steele turned mid 12s at around 114 mph in the quarter at local strips in Southern California-not too shabby for the time period.
What we see today is the result of George's second "restification" for the '56. Steele actually restored the car for the first time about 10 years ago, then took it all apart again beginning in 1995. Obviously he has deviated from original specifications in some areas, but the exterior is still classic '56 Corvette. After stripping the car down to a bare frame, he installed a Currie 9-inch rearend that's equipped with a Traction-Lok limited-slip differential and 3.00:1 gears. Traction bars for a '59-62 model Corvette were installed along with a '60-62 front anti-roll bar. Standard Ford drum brakes are retained on the rear axle assembly, while the front and rear suspensions are rebuilt stock '56 Corvette. George installed front disc brakes, using a kit from E.C.I. It is essentially a bolt-on, according to the owner/builder, and allows the use of stock GM parts that are available over-the-counter and almost anywhere. A late-model Corvette master cylinder and proportioning valve are used to control the stopping forces at all four corners. The '56 rolls on 15-inch steel Chevrolet wheels that measure 5 inches wide in front and 7 inches at the rear, with 195/65 and 235/60 radials at the respective corners.
The old 352 stroker was removed and given a place of honor in George's garage. Replacing it is a '74-vintage 350 that, thanks to a .030-inch overbore, now displaces 355 ci. The stock rods were polished and shot-peened before having TRW 10.2:1 pistons with Childs and Albert rings attached. An Iskendarian solid-lifter cam with 246 degrees of duration at .540-inch lift is connected to a double-roller timing chain and covered by an Edelbrock one-piece front cover. Air Flow Research heads with 2.02-inch intake and 1.60-inch exhaust valves were bolted on after having a three-angle valve job. Aluminum 1.5-ratio rockers are used. On top is a Weiand Team "G" single-plane manifold and a Barry Grant Sports Claw 750-cfm double-pumper carb. Ignition is supplied by a computer-controlled Chevy H.E.I. electronic ignition that can be advanced up to 34 degrees from the driver's seat. Hedman 1 5/8-inch headers dump into 2 1/2-inch dual exhausts fitted with Dynomax mufflers.
George debated the relative merits of stick versus automatic for the transmission, but just couldn't pass up the chance to buy a Richmond five-speed manual gearbox. He installed it with a balanced assembly of McLeod components including an aluminum flywheel, clutch, and pressure plate. A Lakewood bellhousing adapts the aftermarket tranny to the Bow-Tie small-block. George selects the gears via a Long shifter.
When it came time for the body to be refinished, it was a matter of "any color, so long as it's red." Ultimately, he narrowed the choice down to a vibrant Ferrari Red. John Kelson of Costa Mesa, another local SoCal beach community, applied the glittering hue using two-stage Glassurit/Acrylic Urethane. Sure, it's not a Corvette red, but being the same color as a Ferrari is running in the right company. Besides, it could have been Yugo red! The interior was done in real beige leather (not offered in '56, you know) and tan English wool carpet. Westminister Auto Upholstery reupholstered the stock seats and door panels using beige leather, and re-covered the convertible top with a Mercedes hartz cloth fabric rather than the "correct" vinyl. Steele also has the stock hardtop, but it's used so seldom that it hangs in George's garage, still swathed in the yellow from 1966. He also completely rewired the '56, utilizing a harness kit from Painless Wiring.
This Vette is not a garage queen. Despite investing four years of hard labor, mostly his own, Steele hits the road regularly in this classic-and classy-roadster. Listening to it run makes it plain there is a major amount of horsepower in the later Corvette V-8, and just looking at the car while it's standing still provides plenty of additional sensory pleasures. It certainly is not a numbers-matching car, and it has a lot of good old hot rod in it, but that's the great part of Corvettes; they're different things to different people, but they're still the cars we love.